Whether you’re training for a marathon or clocking insane mileage for your first ultra race, the weekly long runs are an essential part of a successful training plan. If you follow a structured training program, the weekdays are pretty much all about fast interval runs, tempo runs, and fartleks. Then comes the weekend and it’s time for the long run. Have you been nailing your long runs only to be sore the day after, and the day after that? The reason is delayed recovery.
Your long runs can be your archangels (that guide you to a strong finish in every race) or your nemesis (ouch the soreness) depending on your recovery ritual. Try these tips after your next long run and experience the difference.
Soon after your long run, gently stretch the major muscles, such as hamstrings, hip flexors, and lower back, to cool them down after the beating they’ve taken pounding pavement for hours together. Performing 5 to 10 minutes of static stretching will prevent your muscles from tightening up and reduce muscle stiffness and soreness that is common after a tough workout.
If you’re back home within half an hour of finishing your run, you can add the legs-up-the-wall pose to your recovery routine. Putting your legs up the wall, after you’re done with the stretching, helps you relax while flushing out lactic acid (a culprit in making your muscles sore) from your legs. This restorative yoga pose also prevents inflammation and swelling.
That feels good, doesn’t it?
Wait, it’s still not time to slump on your couch.
You’re cooled down, you’ve stretched well, you’re feeling relaxed. Now is a good time to attack your legs with the foam roller. Yes, it hurts in the beginning — the tighter your muscles, the more it hurts. But the pain comes with a sweet reward. It smoothens the knots in the muscles and reduces tightness from your legs to prevent running injuries in the future.
Legs feel like lead? Foam roll. Can’t afford regular sports massages? Foam roll. This is one recovery technique that most endurance athletes, not just runners, swear by.
Getting into a tub full of ice, or immersing your legs in an ice bucket, can sound (and feel) like outright torture, but believe it or not, it works like magic! Want to trick your mind into getting out of brrrr mode and get comfortable in the Artic tub/ bucket? Think about your big goals or imagine yourself sprinting past the finish line. Just manage to survive the first 3 minutes, after which the temperature will start to feel temperate. Stay in the ice bath for 10 to 15 minutes.
Hydration is the most important step in every recovery routine. Irrespective of the weather, you sweat quite a lot during your long runs and need to replenish the lost fluid and electrolytes. Drink water or an energy drink within 10-15 minutes of finishing your long run. Continue to hydrate throughout the day by drinking more water than you usually do.
Just like it is important to hydrate to replace lost fluids and electrolytes, it is essential to replenish the glycogen stores in the muscles to start the muscle repair and recovery process. If you want to eat/drink anything sugary, have it within 30 minutes of completing your run — what a wonderful excuse to chug that sugary drink you love since you were a child!
Keep your post-run fuel in a 4:1 ratio of carbs to protein. For complete refuelling 1 to 2 hours after the run, aim to have a hearty, well-balanced meal with complex carbs, lean protein, healthy fats, and vitamin-rich fruits and veggies. Now is the time to indulge, but also embrace mindful eating so that your deliciously scrumptious meal doesn’t tip your refuelling balance towards overfueling.
If sleeping like a baby has been on your bucket list, you’ve earned it. Take a luxurious nap during the day or hit the bed early to get a full 8-hour sleep. When it comes to recovery, sleep is one of the most underrated part of a recovery routine. It is perhaps the cheapest recovery tool and is more therapeutic than it gets credit for.
An easy shakeout run, a short walk, a leisurely bike ride, or yoga, these are all great ways to keep things moving and get your body ready for the upcoming week of intensive training. The idea of cross-training for recovery is to stay active throughout your recovery process although your mind (and muscles) will tell you otherwise! Add yoga to your recovery routine to loosen up the muscles that feel tight the day after your long run.
It might be tempting to kick off your shoes and sit down or take a nap as soon as you reach home after your long run. But don’t give into the temptation! Invest some time for recovery starting immediately after the run and continually spread across the day to ensure you’re not a victim of delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS).
Some soreness may be inevitable, but let that only be sweet reminder of the hard work you’re putting in to reach one step closer to your dream finish, one long run (plus ensuing recovery) at a time.
Happy (long) running!